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Ethics Panel Recommends Censure of Sen. Currie

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    An ethics panel has recommended unanimously that Sen. Ulysses Currie be censured and apologize for failing to disclose more than $245,000 in payments from a grocery store chain between 2003 and 2008.

    If Currie is censured, it would be the first time a Maryland senator has faced any sort of chamber discipline since a member was expelled 14 years ago.

    The report by the Maryland General Assembly's Joint Ethics Committee recommends that Currie be removed immediately and permanently as a member of Senate or Democratic leadership. It also recommends the senator should be removed as chairman of any committee or subcommittee.

    He would keep his seat on the Senate Budget Taxation Committee, the Prince George's County delegation and the Senate. But he would not be able to serve on conference committees, which work out difference in legislation between the two chambers of the Legislature.

    Currie declined to comment Thursday.

    The committee determined Currie used his position as chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee for his own private gain and the gain of Shoppers Food Warehouse. In its report, the committee concluded that Currie's relationship with the company created a conflict of interest that disqualified him from participating in legislation to transfer a liquor license that benefited the company during the 2005 legislative session.

    The matter has hung over Currie since the FBI raided his home in May 2008. Currie stepped down from his position as chairman on the committee that steers billions of dollars in state spending when he was indicted. He was acquitted in November of all charges.

    In that case, the senator was accused of selling his influence as a powerful chairman to benefit Shoppers Food Warehouse. While Currie did not disclose the payments in state ethics forms as required, he paid taxes on the income. Jurors in his federal trial said that while they thought the case presented conflicts of interest, they did not believe the senator's actions were criminal.

    The committee also determined that Currie's conduct was not intentionally malicious or deceitful. Currie signed a contract, spoke about it to a General Assembly ethics adviser -- although incompletely -- and many members of the public were aware of his work for the company.

    “Without malicious intent, Senator Currie used his position of authority and power to bring a financial benefit to a private entity to the detriment of the broader interests of the public,” the report said. “In using his office intentionally as described in this report, Senator Currie has eroded the confidence and trust of the people and other governmental leaders who work with legislators, and has brought dishonor upon the institution.”

    Besides the action on Currie, the ethics committee also is recommending the Senate president and House speaker begin a new program to educate lawmakers on ethical obligations.

    Each member of the General Assembly would be required to have an in-person meeting each year with the ethics adviser. Each lawmaker would be required to bring his or her most recent state and federal tax returns for review.

    The committee also is recommending that the ethics adviser provide written notice to the Senate president or House speaker of a member's failure to fulfill annual ethics requirements.

    Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, said earlier in the day that he expected the Senate to vote on the recommendations Friday.

    “I'm confident that it's going to be resolved tomorrow,” Miller told reporters after session on Thursday.

    The ethics committee's 12 members, including Democrats and Republicans, have not commented on their findings, which were developed in closed-door meetings. Currie was present at one of the meetings with legal counsel.

    In the senator's testimony before the committee, Currie admitted knowing that his title of senator and his position as chairman allowed him to directly contact and to request and hold meetings with state and local government agency officials that would not have otherwise been available to a member of the general public, according to the report.

    The Senate has not voted on sanctions against a senator since the expulsion of Baltimore Democrat Larry young in 1998. Young, who was the first lawmaker expelled from the Senate since the 19th century, was cleared the next year of charges he accepted bribes from the owner of a health care company seeking state approval to serve Medicaid patients.